Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review - One for the Books

One for the Books


Joe Queenan

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Reading & Books

Synopsis: Queenan discusses several aspects of his life as a reader.

Date finished: 13 May 2013

Rating: ****

I read much of the first essay in an Amazon preview, and I enjoyed his curmudgeonly voice, his absolute faith in his own opinion being right. It was enough to make me buy the books. (It’s a paradox of life: sometimes a grumpy, unpleasant attitude can be refreshing.)

Well, the first essay was definitely the best part of the book, in my opinion. It’s where he talks about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of his reading. He reads about 150 books per year, on the average, hates e-readers, reads to escape (and is convinced all readers do), never reads this year’s book this year, owns 1374 books, writes in his books, organizes his books by texture and height, hates it when folks give him books to read, despises book clubs, praises citizen reviews (such as Amazon), and has strong opinions about what’s good and worth reading.

The essay titled “Other Voices, Other Rooms” was like the first essay, and I enjoyed that as well. In it, he discusses his friends’ reading habits. The essays in between were less interesting. He discussed literary road trips and bad experiences in libraries and good experiences in bookstores.

I have a thing for books about reading. I love the voyeurism and passion and camaraderie. I never find books on reading that are written by readers like me, but that doesn’t really seem to matter. Within the first handful of pages I knew I was in for ride of fiction namedropping when he dismissed nonfiction flat-out. He’s a fiction and classics guy.

What would he think of what I read? He’d guffaw and make scornful comments. I, for one, enjoyed Eat Pray Love and am not ashamed to say I got a great deal out of it. I enjoyed Blink. I also enjoyed Madame Curie. I am tired of folks who think the only books worth reading are classic literature and that anything that ended up on a bestseller list is drivel. There are so few readers in the world, why alienate most of them with a single swipe? And this by way of saying, the acerbic wit got old. The bashing of some books and authors and the exulting of others got old. Can’t we all just get along?

But all in all, I enjoyed his writing. It was smart. I even ran upon a few words I didn’t know (that is rare these days). His writing, likely because it is so opinionated is infinitely quotable. Here are some of my favorites:

The average American reads four books a year, and the average American finds this more than sufficient. (page 1)

Winston Churchill supposedly read a book every day of his life, even while he was saving Western Civilization from the Nazis. This is an amazing achievement, because by many accounts Churchill spent the Second World War completely hammered. (page 5)

I do not listen to audiobooks, for the same reason that I do not listen to baked ziti; it lacks personal touch. (page 6)

From the moment I own a book, even before I open it to the first page, I feel that it has in some way changed my life. (page 15)

Only in libraries do [employees] stay in the same place for so long; even churches and urban crime syndicates move the personnel around. (page 40)

Book clubs pivot on the erroneous, egotistical notion that the reader has something to add to the conversation. (page 44)

…the vast majority of book reviews are favorable, even though the vast majority of books deserve no praise whatsoever.” (page 144)

his daughter on why she doesn’t like libraries:

When I read a book it is an investment, not a loan.

People who prefer e-books…think that books merely take up space. This is true, but so do your children and Prague and the Sistine Chapel. (page 239)

Would you recommend this to a friend?
A reader, yes. Also a curmudgeon.

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